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Explorersweb interview with Alan Arnette: "I now know I can do most anything I set as a goal in life"

Posted: Mar 31, 2015 08:14 am EDT

(Tina Sjogren) First he would hike. Then he tried a small peak. From the top he spotted Everest. Then he became an Everest summiteer. And bagged Manaslu. He started an Everest blog for regular people. And just like that he had climbed K2. Now he wants them all.


Alan Arnette's story resembles that of a new bunch of mountaineers currently touring the Himalayan giants. They use infrastructure without apology, catching flak from media and alpinists who believe peaks should be scaled without support, via new routes, or at least without supplementary oxygen at a minimum. 



An interesting thing about the new generation is that they are no kids at all - in their 40s-60s many are also relative late-comers to Himalaya. They seem to walk a different edge: At a time in life when most people (and mountaineers) retire in comfort or start the countdown - these sky riders drove in at sunset and show no intention to hang up their spurs.


So we caught up with some of them with the same set of questions: Who are they? Why do they climb the way they do? What do they tell their critics? What's Himalaya like these days compared to Messner's, and what can we learn from them in terms of extended life and health? 


Here goes Alan Arnette.


Explorersweb: You are off to Lhotse. What is your itinerary and overall goal?


Alan: With my summits of Everest, K2 and Manaslu and  good efforts on Shishapangma, Broad Peak and Cho Oyu, I feel well prepared to attempt these 11 remaining  8000m mountains and optimistic we can reach the $1M goal for Alzheimer’s research by reaching 100 million people.


My objectives for each climb include: safety, cause results, and climb success. To minimize costs, I will try to organize the climbs leveraging logistics from local organizations.  Each climb will be conducted in small, safe teams utilizing proven Sherpa support, hopefully including Kami Sherpa whom I summited both Everest and K2 with in 2011 and 2014. 


Explorersweb: How did you get into mountaineering?


Alan: I started climbing when I was 38, my first “peak” being Longs Peak (14,259’/4346m) in Colorado. I was living in Geneva Switzerland in the mid 1990s’ and had a clear view of Mont Blanc (15,771’/4807m) from my house. It called out to me and I went on to summit it in 1995. I loved the experience. I made a trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in 1997 and saw the giants for the first time but dismissed even trying them for lack of skills, experience, time and money. 


But something got inside me and I attempted Cho Oyu (26,907’/8201m) in 1998. I reached the summit plateau, 8000m, and turned back due to timing. I learned a lot from that climb and it fueled my new found passion.


Explorersweb: When did you realize you wanted to summit them all?


 Alan: I went on to summit Everest and Manaslu then It was after my summit of K2, that I felt all 14 would be a reasonable goal.


Explorersweb: What was K2 like?


Alan: K2 stands heads and shoulders over any of my 37 major expeditions, including 4 climbs on Everest with only one summit. It was everything climbing has to offer: rock, ice, snow, altitude, glaciers, crevasses, avalanches, rock fall and weather. It starts steep and never lets up. Climbing through the Black Pyramid was the most fun I’ve ever had on any climb.


But I developed a mild case of HAPE on the summit push, about an hour out of High Camp around 26,000’. It is a complicated story but I never considered turning back and pushed on. I drew on the strength of those I knew were following me and loved me to push my mind and body to places I never knew existed. 


I was grateful to be climbing with Kami Sherpa and Garrett Madison, but in the end, at those altitudes and conditions, you must be self sufficient and move yourself up and down the mountain.


Explorersweb: What has been your most memorable climb?


Alan: Ama Dablam stands out as a key climb because when I saw it on that 1997 trek to EBC, I laughed to myself saying it was impossible for me. But in 2000, I summited it - and it was an amazing feeling. It was on that summit, looking over at Everest, I began to consider an attempt.



Explorersweb: How do you feel mountaineering has changed during your time?


Alan: I’m not sure there has been a sweeping change but rather incremental improvements that have made the sport somewhat safer but certainly more accessible to non-processionals i.e. not sponsored by a gear or outdoor company where the individual makes their living, more than cover expenses, through climbing.


Improvements in communication technology now allows people to stay in touch whereas in 1997, I had limited contact back home during my treks in Nepal. Improvements in fabrics (clothing, tents), boot soles, etc has made everything lighter.


Explorersweb: How has it affected you personally?


Alan: I now know I can do most anything I set as a goal in life. Mountaineering has taught me about planning, preparation, persistence, and resilience. I have been exposed to so many cultures, personalities and landscapes that I would have missed had it not been for my climbing. 


However, I also have been exposed to a dark side that I find disturbing.  I realize that there are so many people that take some form of morbid pride in telling others they can’t do something. Mountaineering as a sport, seems to bring out the “haters” with such venom that they are blinded by their own narrow philosophy. 


Yes, style matters, but so do dreams. I totally get it and in my opinion style is subjective. This is another life lesson, different people do things in different ways - being different is not wrong, it is different. To criticize one person for not doing something like you would do it, is self limiting. In other words, perhaps they have a reason for doing it their way, and you could learn from it. 


Perhaps taking some of their best ideas and incorporating it into yours, and vice versa. Simply criticizing and dismissing another person’s approach is cheating yourself.



Explorersweb: What would you tell people who say that 8000ers are easy and Everest is just a pile of garbage and dead bodies? 


Alan: I never heard anyone who has actually climbed one of the 8000 meter mountains characterize their climb as “easy”.


The media loves to spin these stories of trash, bodies and self aggrandizement with sensationalized headlines designed to grab viewers. It is more of the same of negativity around climbing and Everest is the favorite whipping post.


There is trash and bodies on every popular (and many rarely climbed mountains) around the world. In my personal experience on 9 expeditions on 8000 meter mountains, I saw trash but never a dead body. To say Everest is a “pile of garbage” conjures up an inaccurate image.


All this said, there is much more that could be done on all the world’s popular mountains including using WAG bags for solid waste and strongly enforcing the Leave no Trace ethic. The major operators need to take the lead, but private expeditions play a huge role in this and need to accept their responsibility in keeping the mountain clean. Finally the local operators need to internalize that this is happening in their backyard.


Explorersweb: What about those stating that going the normal route, with sherpas and using oxygen is not “real” climbing?


Alan: I call this the old, tired debate where no one listens to the other side. This is a discussion based on beliefs, not facts. Who owns the definition of “climbing” similar to running, jogging, singing or writing? I refer you to my earlier comments on style. but in general, I simply refuse to engage in this discussion anymore.



Exploresweb: Who are you climbing with this time?


Alan: In general I try to climb with friends but for the  8000m project, it is virtually impossible to sync  time, money, experience to create a strong enough team. Thus I will leverage the logistics from local organizations and some commercial teams.


My plan is to climb with Kami Sherpa whom I summited both Everest and K2 with in 2011 and  2014. I will utilize the services of Garrett Madison, Madison Mountaineering, for some of the climbs starting with Lhotse in April/May 2015. 


Exploresweb:  Would you consider a new route, without “the fixings”,  but less chance of summit on an 8000er in the future?


Alan: Absolutely, but it would have to be done in a safe manner.


Exploresweb:  How do you finance this lifestyle?


Alan: I self funded all my climbs up until I took early retirement to oversee the care of my mom, Ida, as Alzheimer’s took her life. I got a college education (Electrical Engineering), got a great job, primarily in management, with Hewlett Packard and earned a good living.


But as I started to climb on behalf of Alzheimer’s I knew I need financial support plus the expertise of professional public relations firms if I were to reach the millions of people I targeted. I have been sponsored by Janssen Alzheimer’s Immunotherapy (a venture of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer), Abila (a nonprofit software company) and Banner Alzheimer’s Institute (for increasing enrollment in clinical trials). 


I am currently searching for an overall sponsor for Project 8000.


Exploresweb:  Why not just the Seven Summits, wouldn’t that be cheaper and easier - most people think they are the highest anyway :) What is it the 8000ers give you that other peaks can’t?


Alan: I summited 7 of the 8 "7 Summits" in 2011. Denali escaped when were were trapped by bad weather for 8 days at the 17K High Camp. While the 7 Summits is better known, the 14 8’s represent a larger climbing challenge thus will be more attractive to my followers. 


Also at age 58, I may be the oldest American for some of these thus setting an alternative model for those later in life who want to retire in a chair and watch TV all day.


Next: Sherpas and Politics. 


This interview series in full

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


Previous with Arnette


ExWeb Special: 2015 Everest and Himalaya Mountaineers Tech Roundtable






Everest 2015: Interesting Expeditions of the Season


Hello from Kathmandu: Tunc Findik going for Annapurna

Tunc Findik interview, final: Anna will have to wait


Horia and Hamor Rope Up for Manaslu North Side Climb and Ski


10 things to do before going off to climb Everest


Wildcard: Everest Rules and Permits 2015



Himalaya 2015 Spring climbing coverage


R.I.P. Samuli Mansikka


Annapurna Rescue Mission Launched: Not Everything is alright


Annapurna: List of Summiteers


Annapurna: Climbers on Final Summit-bid! (Update: Summits)


Annapurna: First Summit Push of the Season Begins



Spring 2015: Early Birds Have Reached Annapurna


Lifesaving Wrong Turn: Unsuccessful but Happy Expedition on Nanga Parbat











During more than a decade Colorado resident Alan Arnette has been climbing among the giants of the world: Everest, K2, Manaslu, Shishapangma, Broad Peak and Cho Oyu. With summits of the first three Alan has decided to go for them all.
courtesy Alan Arnette, SOURCE
Shapely Ama Dablam seduced the American climber: "It was on that summit, looking over at Everest, I began to consider an attempt."
courtesy Alan Arnette, SOURCE
Everest. "Yes, style matters, but so do dreams," Alan says in response to climbing purists.
courtesy Alan Arnette, SOURCE
"There is trash and bodies on every popular (and many rarely climbed mountains) around the world," Alan says. "In my personal experience on 9 expeditions on 8000 meter mountains, I saw trash but never a dead body. To say Everest is a 'pile of garbage' conjures up an inaccurate image."
courtesy Alan Arnette, SOURCE
"At age 58, I may be setting an alternative model for those later in life who want to retire in a chair and watch TV all day."
courtesy Alan Arnette, SOURCE